Dole contests OSHA violations, $82K in penalties at Springfield plant

Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc. is contesting safety violations and fines connected with its Springfield plant filed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to an OSHA inspection report.

Few details were immediately available about the nature of the alleged violations because Dole has contested them, according to information from the agency. An inspection was opened in late August at Dole’s Springfield facility at 600 Benjamin Drive, according to the inspection report.

The inspection documents show two apparent violations.

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A citation for what was labeled as a serious violation for the alleged “control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout)” was filed in early October, and the company was issued a penalty for $12,675.

Another citation labeled a repeat violation for alleged “mechanical power-transmission apparatus” was filed by OSHA the same day with a $69,713 penalty, for a total $82,388 in penalties, according to OSHA documents.

The federal agency declined to provide further details about the violations because Dole has contested them. The Springfield News-Sun has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for more information but OSHA hasn’t responded yet.

Dole officials declined to comment.

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The federal agency has this note on the top of the inspection form: “The following inspection has not been indicated as closed. Please be aware that the information shown may change, e.g. violations may be added or deleted.”

In a separate case, Dole voluntarily recalled pre-packaged salads and closed the Springfield plant for four months in 2016 after a Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigation linked the site to a suspected outbreak of listeria.

Dole Food Company Inc., parent company of Dole Fresh Vegetables, said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing earlier this year that it has received notice of several claims of illnesses and two deaths potentially relating to the outbreak.

In that filing for an initial public offering for Dole Food Company Inc., the company said it had been served with a subpoena in April last year from the U.S. Department of Justice seeking information for an investigation of the listeria outbreak at the Springfield site.

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“Even if a product liability claim is unsuccessful or is not fully pursued, the negative publicity surrounding any assertion that our products caused illness or injury could adversely affect our reputation with existing and potential customers and our corporate and brand image,” Dole Food Company said in the SEC filing. “Moreover, claims or liabilities of this sort might not be covered by our insurance or by any rights of indemnity or contribution that we may have against others.”

No further details about a Department of Justice investigation were available this week.

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“As a matter of policy, the Department of Justice does not confirm, deny or otherwise comment on the existence or nonexistence of investigations,” spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said.

An affiliate of Dole purchased a nearly $550,000, 28-acre property near its plant along Titus Road earlier this spring. Local officials said the company needed the property in case of future expansion.

Dole has more than 700 employees at its processing plant in Springfield, which was built in 1998 and packages salad found in grocery stores across the country. The company recently completed a $9 million expansion to add three new packaging lines and one processing line.

In the SEC filing, Dole Food Company touts its food safety practices and says it continuously looks for ways to strengthen its food safety and agricultural practices.

“We routinely evaluate processing innovations and have installed proprietary produce wash technology in each of our salad manufacturing plants,” the filing says. “We have also implemented a sanitation program, which leverages the most recent advancements in cleaning chemistry, an industry-leading program for environmental surveillance and the latest technology for trending environmental testing results within a produce processing environment.”

Earlier this year, the Springfield News-Sun reported Dole had reached settlements in two separate civil lawsuits related to the outbreak, although the terms of those agreements weren’t disclosed. The two cases involved one woman from Warren County and a separate woman from Franklin County.

Dole denied the allegations in both cases, according to court records.

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